Backyard hens may soon be allowed in Garner; hunting deer will not

kjahner@newsobserver.comApril 29, 2014 

KYLE JAHNER — File Photo

— The result of Thursday’s law and finance meeting is good news for hens, and perhaps better news for deer.

The committee marched toward allowing property owners to keep hens, while essentially shooting down the idea of legalizing bow-hunting of deer in town limits.

Councilwoman Kathy Behringer supported the rules proposed by the planning department on advice from council. Gra Singleton suggested even more leeway on the number of hens allowed per property owner and the size of runs the town would allow.

Meanwhile, police objections and Garner’s density effectively brought down the idea of following communities such as Durham and Wake Forest into the growing world of legal urban bow-hunting.

Hens are currently not permitted by law on lots smaller than one acre in the town limits. Enforcement of that provision was suspended last June while the council decided to revisit the issue. A public hearing on a proposed amendment to the town code could happen as soon as June 2.

The council members agreed with those who have advocated allowing the birds, who say they can be both pets and good producers of eggs. While they expect some to worry about smell and noise issues among others, Behringer said the town is working to ensure others aren’t burdened and that some fears would prove unfounded.

“There is sometimes a gap between fact and belief,” Behringer said. “We want to make sure people understand that if chickens are brought in they’re going to be subjected to standards that aren’t going to reduce quality of life for anyone else.”

The proposal allows five hens (roosters are not included for noise reasons) per property, though Singleton recommended that be increased to closer to eight.

Chicken coops can be no more than seven feet tall and must have four square feet of space per hen, or 10 if there’s no outside run for them. The max on that outside fence had been set by the planning department. Planning director Brad Bass said the department reviewed other town’s rules (many, such as Raleigh, permit hens) and said the presented options were designed to be conservative.

“I think a 12 by 12 (pen) is not very big,” Singleton said.

Property owners can put the fencing and coop where they’d like, as long as it’s at least 10 feet from their neighbors’ property lines. Along with people in houses, residents of duplexes or town homes can also keep hens, if the property is big enough to accommodate the coop and the 10-foot setback.

There are also rules to require maintenance including preventing smells and unsightliness of waste, feather and other nuisances.

Police chief Brandon Zuidema expressed concerns that some of the phrasing didn’t explicitly give police the authority to enforce the code, and the planning department agreed to revise that as it fine tunes the proposed rules.

Behringer said the town wanted to be progressive in dealing with people wanting to keep pets as long as it didn’t impose upon neighbors. She said some backlash might come from a generational gap.

“There’s an argument that we live in an urban setting because we don’t want to live on the farm anymore. That’s true for my generation,” she said. “But the next generation looks at it differently.”

Regarding noise, Behringer noted a resident of Avery Park that had been frustrated with a neighbor who had a coop abutting her property. The pen was moved to the center of the yard.

“She’s still not happy, but she said she doesn’t hear the noise anymore,” Behringer said.

Singleton echoed the sentiment, saying some might have a skewed idea of what would be allowed and the effects. Waste, for example, would be minimal given that an average dog creates more waste than several birds. And fencing keeps any problems contained in the yard.

“This is not chickens roaming, this is chickens contained as pets,” Singleton

Slaughter on a homeowner’s property is prohibited, though Singleton admitted that the rule would be difficult to enforce unless done in the open. He also said most want the birds for the eggs.

Deer dodge an arrow

Police voiced their concern Thursday over the idea of legal bow-hunting of deer, which had been proposed as a way to, along other things, thin the population of an animal that causes thousands car accidents across the state.

The council committee members decided to take no further action in the matter.

Zuidema and Lt. Chris Clayton made the case that there wouldn’t be enough hunters and permissible hunting locations – either a lot has to be five acres or five acres of contiguous landowners would have to enter into an agreement – to provide real benefit. Meanwhile, police would have to expand resources to enforce the code and respond to citizens reporting hunting they didn’t know was legal.

When they added the safety risk, their math said the benefit fell well short of both certain and potential costs.

The committee essentially agreed, and decided to take no further action on the matter. In-season bow-hunting, like keeping hens, is legal in unincorporated Wake County.

Jahner: 919-829-4822; Twitter: @garnercleveland

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